MISSION, RGV – Economic development corporations are going to struggle to recruit and retain companies if they do not have a talented workforce.

This was the thinking of Mission EDC leaders when they introduced Code the Town, a project that teaches children computer coding, and Enginuity, a project aimed at getting students interested in engineering at an early age.

“At the end of the day we are creating and nurturing talent. It cannot just be about recruiting companies. We cannot recruit companies if we do not have the talent. We know it is not something we can do overnight but we have to start the foundations sometime,” said Alex Meade, executive director of Mission EDC.

“Luckily, our board has been very supportive and has chosen entrepreneurship and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education as our priorities. We know that without education we cannot achieve any of the other tasks that we have. We cannot recruit, we cannot retain. We cannot do anything.”

Meade and Daniel Silva, Mission EDC’s chief operating officer, say these education projects have been fun to develop. However, they say they have not lost sight of an EDC’s traditional role. “The neatest thing is that is even as we have done these projects, Ruby Red Ventures, Code the Town, and Enginuity, we have also almost filled out our industrial park. We have sold almost every piece of property in the industrial park. Of the 70 acres, there are only about 15 left and those we do not really have access to because they are in the middle of the park,” Meade said.

Meade said he is reminded of one of comedian Chris Rock’s standup jokes about seeking credit for doing things one is supposed to do anyway.

“When an EDC says, we’ve recruited a company, that’s your job. Tell me something else that you have done aside from your typical duties? I always tell the joke of Chris Rock when he says in his stand-ups, I go to work every day and I feed my kids every day. That is your job. It is our job to recruit companies.”

Doing something aside from the traditional role of an EDC was something Meade set out to do from the start. “We made it a point to disrupt the way economic development is done at the local level from the very beginning. We did this with Ruby Red Ventures (a project to encourage entrepreneurial skills), Code the Town, Enginuity, and the Center for Education and Economic Development. What we have done with all of these is create an eco-system to develop talent.”

Meade hastened to add that he was not saying Mission EDC was better than any other in the region.

“We are just trying to bring things to the table that maybe were not there before. There may be other cities that have more money than we do that offer more than what we can offer with Ruby Red. We just hope that they think outside the box and do something different,” Meade said.

“We have a younger EDC than some of the other ones. If we screw up, we can say, hey, we are the younger ones here, we do not know what the hell we are doing; we should have listened to our elders. With Ruby Red Ventures we have trained over 130 people. We have funded 22 businesses. We average about ten businesses a year. We are constantly producing results. They are not huge results. Not everyone is Royal Technologies. But some of them have the potential. One lady went through Ruby Red Ventures. She was making a dip out of her house. Now she has been selling to HEB across Texas.”

Meade said it was important for Mission EDC to promote entrepreneurship and the small business community through Ruby Red Ventures because it will produce a bigger bang for the buck than trying to land a big manufacturing firm.

“Other communities do not like to hear this but when you look at the statistics for manufacturing it is only expected to grow by ten percent over ten years. How are we going to invest 100 percent of our time on a one percent return over ten years when the local economy is growing over a faster pace?” Meade asked.

“I do not care what the landscape looks like, our job is produce results. I am not biased towards healthcare, manufacturing, IT, whatever it is. If I am going to be judged on my performance I need to spend my time on something that is going to produce a higher return. If I do not do that I should be fired. Yes, it is really great if I land a manufacturing company but that is a really small percentage of what is happening in Mission. I think manufacturing in Mission accounts for about two percent of the workforce. Education is big. Healthcare is big, Government is big. So, let’s diversify a little bit.”

Editor’s Note: This is the third in a three-part series on the work of Mission Economic Development Corporation. Click here for Part One and here for Part Two.